Many of our clients fit into niche industries—legal and financial are the most prevalent. However, we are often approached by businesses serving areas of the market that are new to us. To serve our clients, we need to know about their market, their competition, and what differentiates our client from others. That’s when competitive analysis is most important.
Understanding competitors means more than just knowing who might be sharing shelf space or web presence. It’s equally important to gain a better understanding of who you’re speaking to, what else they’re hearing, and where you can help them fit into the industry.
You can gain an in-depth understanding without ever leaving your desk. Here are 10 great ideas to begin your online research:
- Competitor's sites: Start by combing through the marketing materials of your competitors. How do they position themselves? What market niche are they claiming? What colors and images do they use? What customer service and support are they offering?
- Google: The most obvious—yes—but there’s so much you can find. Search your client’s name, as well as their business area. On the first two or three pages of results you’ll see who the big players are in the industry. Be sure to review the paid ads at the top and along the right edge. This will reveal who’s spending money to attract customers and what they’re saying to entice clicks.
- Social media: Almost everyone—from worldwide corporations to one-person shops—have a presence on Facebook or Twitter. Read what competitors say to position themselves. Pay attention to the number of followers, who those folks are, and the ways in which they interact. Start to draft a rough demographics profile of the clients or customers to whom you’ll be speaking.
- Web reviews: If your client already sells a product or provides a service, check to see what their customers are saying in the reviews on sites like Amazon.com, Yelp.com, and Epinions.com. Is there room for improvement? And what are the same people saying about other businesses in the same niche? Hearing complaints is often the best way to improve upon what’s already being done.
- Wikipedia: Use this crowd-sourced, web-based encyclopedia to better understand the basics of complicated industries. Research how satellites relay information, the dyeing process of textiles, the history of a medical procedure, and thousands of other facts.
- Industry blogs: Gain insights into the challenges of a market by reading the top blogs by the people leading the industry. Set up a Google Reader account and subscribe to the RSS feeds. Check in a few times a week to read the latest news.
- Consumer blogs: This is a great way to develop that demographic sketch of your own audience. Again, subscribe to RSS feeds to stay on top of news.
- Follow trendsetters and industry leaders: Once you’ve found the industry leaders through blogs or articles, follow them on Twitter. See who they interact with, identify emerging trends, and what topics are capturing their attention. If you follow the hash tags they use (those are the keywords that start with a #) you may see what the rest of the Twitterverse thinks too.
- Free webinars, conference materials, and more: No matter the area your clients are in, there are probably dozens of conferences in that industry. Packing your bags and jetting clear across the country might be out of your budget. But, lots of conferences also offer presentations as free webinars. You may also be able to download PowerPoint presentations, brochures, and speaker schedules. Comb though these freebies to get an idea of what topics have currency, and who’s doing the talking. Make sure to follow the big names, as mentioned in #’s 5 and 7 above.
- Compile your own glossary of terms and buzzwords: As you do all of the above, start making a list of the words and topics you hear over and over. Make sure you understand the product or service. Familiarize yourself with definitions specific to this client’s needs. You must speak the language of the audience. Also stay on top of the buzzwords to be able to “talk the talk” with your clients.
The time spent on competitive research allows us to better serve our clients throughout the creative process, and keep the focus on their expectations.